If life were easy, it wouldn’t be worth being captured in a movie.
How can I begin to try to describe a day in my life? I wish there were more predictable days. I wish there were a TYPICAL day in the closely organized chaos of my life. Instead, my days are a constant flow toward the next priority. Let me explain what I mean.
A while back I decided to move from Venezuela to USA and set my roots in this country. A few years went by and one day I suddenly found myself as a single mother with two young boys. Without any family to support me, I had to reinvent myself not just to survive, but to thrive in a place where everything was a barrier, including the language. But when in doubt, go to school. First, I had to learn the language and then to study a career. Fortunately, I found people on the way that helped me gather the courage to return to engineering and guided me through the process.
Going back to school as an adult with two small children was not exactly a walk in the park. I had to coordinate my classes between drop-offs and pick-ups. I would do my homework sitting on whatever I could find next to where the kids were having basketball or soccer practice. I would study for my finals at the zoo while they played at the splash zone, or by the pool during their swimming classes. Sometimes, the situation was the other way around. Too many times, my kids would sit outside the classroom and wait while I was in class finished taking a test. So, I could easily say, my children had to do a good amount of sacrifice themselves for me to be able to walk in my graduation ceremony. Our greatest family achievement was me graduating with honors by receiving the Worlds Ahead recognition by the president of my now Alma Mater, Florida International University. To top it all, I was able to land a job in one of the largest and most prestigious company with a 100-year legacy of innovations in sustainable infrastructure. This totally sounds like a happy ending right… well not so fast.
That happily-ever-after was a few years ago, before the pandemic, and before my boys became teenagers with a bunch of extracurricular activities and college dreams. The cycle came upon us too fast!
As of for mostly everyone, the pandemic brought a new set of challenges. Having the kids taking classes online from home, at the same place where I was trying to work was definitely no fun. For the boys I was just mom at home, so there were multiple “requests” during the day like “Mom what’s for breakfast?”; “Mom is lunch ready?”; or “Mom, can I get a snack?” I swear I made more trips to the kitchen in that year that I could ever imagine possible. All this at the same time that things were getting very interesting professionally speaking. My project work bloomed in every aspect. Not just more projects, but more interesting kind of projects with great opportunities to increase my level of experience from design to construction management. Professional development and leadership prospects presented themselves. I was nominated and then invited to join the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion subcommittee with the Water Environment Federation in addition to serving at the local boards for ASCE and FWEA. With the world going virtual, the invitations to speak multiply and I was able to reach universities in states I have never been to, and even international opportunities. Of course, as long as I could keep my cat from jumping in front of the camara while I was presenting.
In 2020, a day in my life went something like this: waking up at 6:AM to get coffee and sit down to work with some peace. Break for Breakfast and getting kids ready for school, walk the dog and feed the cat. Back to work, including a meeting or two. Break for preparing lunch for the boys, then back to work. Break for cooking dinner, then back to work until pass 9 PM; then cleaning up the house, taking care of the pets, and then finally going to sleep close to midnight. In short, I felt I was working the entire day with multiple planned and unplanned breaks. It was go-go-go like a hamster in a exercise wheel.
Thankfully, the boys are now back to physical school, but my days have not necessarily gotten any easier because of it. They have both been accepted to great schools, both are MAGNET programs for engineering (proud mama here). However, each school is far from the house and in opposite direction from each other. This makes my daily commute a disaster to say it nicely. It takes me half an hour to drop off the first kid, then another half an hour to drop off the second kid, and an hour to drive back home in the morning. And I have got to do it all over again at pick-up time in the afternoon. With the aggravation that the kids have extracurricular activities (science club, robotic team, competition practice) any day of the week and for some reason I never get to learn this in advance.
So, going back to the initial question, how is a typical day in my life? It starts very early, fulfilling my mom duties by taking the kids to school. Then coming back home (yes, still working from home) to take a morning walk with the dog and my mom, who has recently moved to live with us and really enjoys feeding the ducks in the neighborhood’s pond. Then I get to work. Between meetings, designing for my various projects or reviewing and coordinating submittals and RFI for the projects currently in construction my day flies, and before you know it, it is time to drop everything and run to pick up the boys from school and be surprised with the daily extra-activities nobody thought cool to inform mom about. Then I come back home to work again and to finish my never-ending to-do list. In any typical day, I would probably have a board meeting or a planning call for any of my multiple volunteer commitments. I am very involved in the community and I am part of the professional organizations related to my field. It appears there is never enough time in a day to wear all the hats I own. Things overlap… a lot. There are many meetings I need to take on the go. And there are days the kids have to wait a bit longer because I need a few more minutes to get something out of my inbox. There are also few nights I might need to stay up reviewing papers for a competition or preparing for a presentation for an outreach activity next day. Rarely an easy day, and never a predictable day.
Is there a way I could make my life easier? Probably, yes. I could cut back or even cease my volunteer work, but that would make me enormously unhappy. I absolutely love the outreach work I do. I feel it is our duty as engineers to help bring the next generation onboard, and of course, I enjoy interacting with students and getting energized by their curiosity. I could transfer the kids to a single school near home, but that wouldn’t help them academically and professionally, and I want to give them the best opportunities I possibly can. I could ask my supervisor to ease my work load, but I really enjoy all my projects knowing they are making an impact in our environment and bringing solutions to the community we served. Again, could I make my days easier? Yes, but I why?